Vibrations of Beauty
Say the name P. T. Barnum and most people think of the circus. For over one hundred years, the circus was a popular form of entertainment for all ages and levels of mankind. The entry fee has always been within the reach of most people and for those who inquired, odd jobs were always available for those who could not afford the price of a ticket. The modern-day famous circus Ringling Brothers is expected any day to announce their decision to retire permanently all of their acts with elephants out of concern for the animals. Such displays of humanity are not generally associated with the circus, long known for their displays of the most interesting of mankind in various sideshow presentations of the world’s smallest man, the bearded lady, etc. Therefore, you might be surprised to learn of the connection with P. T. Barnum and sacred tones of worship. Truly, there is sacred to be found in everything!
Yesterday we discussed sound and how closely the movement of the planet and everything contained within produced sound. It should be no surprise then that sound became a means of announcement and of defense. Finding things to produce sound also became paramount and the percussion family of instruments was born when mankind realized sound could be made from striking objects. When the object is made of wood, the sound’s resonance is different than when it is made of metal or from cloth or hide stretched on a frame. Sound also became a means of communication, even with the spirits of the unknown.
Hand bells are known to have existed in Chins in the fifth century BCE. The oldest actual bells found date back to 1600 BCE. Using Fish mouths and replicated carvings of such for scoops, man soon learned these objects could be strung up and the wind would move them to produce sound. Eighty bronze casts have been found in Nineveh in what is today Iraq that were thought to be used for the making of bells. These date back to seventh century BCE. Forty-nine sixth century ACE Irish bells have also been discovered. Made from iron, these Irish bells were hammered square with rivets. (Just a side note: A modern-day drum set often contains a cymbal with rivets along its outer circumference edge suspended and mounted on a stand. When the cymbals is struck, the rivets add an extra layer or texture of sound.) The most famous Irish bell is the Clog-an-Eadhacta Phatraic or Bell of St Patrick’s’ Will which dates back to 552 ACE.
So what, you might be thinking does the father of the American circus have to do with bells? By the seventh century, bells had become an expected part of the Christian faith as well as being used in practically every other religion and spirituality known to man. In Eastern cultures they were used to help one meditate. In Islam they were used to announce time for prayers. Even pagans used them to ward off evil spirits, believing not always in good spirits but definitely believing in the evil of the world. The vibrations of the bell, which by this time had grown in size to metallic cylinders, some over six feet in height, were heard and felt by people in every culture and socio-economic level.
Wind chimes had humble origins. Considered intricate to early feng shui, they were often made of seashells and used to portray the movement of time, of the planet, of mankind in its living. While bamboo wind chimes are ageless and have been found in almost every Asian culture, Chinese wind chimes were forged from iron after around 1000 BCE. The Japanese wind chime, usually made from wood, appeared around 400 BCE. As the making of wind chimes advanced to the making of bells, a more secular use became prevalent – the telling of time. Much like the symbolism of the movement of wind chimes to illustrate the path we all take in life, bells became a part of clocks. Tubular bells were introduced as a way of telling the hour.
Soon the vibrations of bells were heard in a biographical being that illustrated their history. People were reminded of the hour and that it was time to pray which was, in one sense, a way of warding off evil and celebrating the good in life. In sixteenth century tower bell ringing was popular. The suspension of a number of bells produced a melodic pattern although the bells were rung in a numbered sequence, not for the purpose of producing a melody. It took a great deal of practice to learn how to pull the bell ropes with precision. This practice often disturbed neighboring stores and homes. Small bells were produced simply for practice but these hand bells also gained a popularity of their own. During the 1820’s a family known as the Peake Family toured the United States of America and performed on their hand bells. Their success led P. T. Barnum to including hand bells as an act in his traveling variety show known as the circus. Tune ringing, as it was called, soon became very popular.
What may not have been apparent in this brief history of bells, which later became combined with the mechanism of a harpsichord and piano to produce instruments such as the celesta and carillon, is the communal aspect of them. Sound serves as a connection for us and our environment. The sound waves need something to initiate them and something else from which they resonate. Nature is always producing sound and those sounds link every part of nature to another. The stimulation of sound moves the planet and it moves us. American poet C. Joybell C. believes that “We are all equal in the fact that we are all different. We are all the same in the fact that we will never be the same. We are united by the reality that all colors and all cultures are distinct and individual. We are harmonious in the reality that we are all held to this earth by the same gravity.”
The parts of a wind chime move harmoniously just as the overtones of a single tube produce vibrations that bring us to life. Perhaps it is a sound that puts us on edge, foretells of danger, or perhaps it is a sound that soothes, that calms. Sound reminds us that we are not alone. It can alleviate tension, stress, and/or anger. All of these emotions work together in harmony to remind us that we are alive. Mahatma Gandhi advised: “Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.” In the sounds of our living are beautiful vibrations that remind us we are in this sacred thing called life together. The faint rustle of a wind chime or the brilliant pealing of the church bells reminds us, as John Donne did, originally in a long essay but this part which is now a famous poem:
“No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.